Why did they do it? Even if the person leaves a note explaining their reason for suicide the questions and the anguish linger. Do people really want to die, or have they just had enough of living? Many of those who recover from attempted suicide will say they had no pressing urgency to die, they simply couldn’t see the point in going on. Many will recover but some will try again. How might we explain suicidal tendencies?
Statistics from The National Institute of Mental Health show that in 2007 suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. If we include those from the World Health Organization, the global rates of suicide are truly astonishing. The tables are out there for those wishing to analyze the data, but for our purposes I think it’s sufficient to know that somewhere in the world an attempt on life is being made every 1-2 seconds.
People attempt suicide for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is a genuine error, such as overdosing or playing high-risk games. Effectively the person has killed themselves but not for the reasons most people would associated with suicide. Psychosis, emotional impulsiveness, a cry for help, a personal and reasoned decision to prevent further pain and distress; all explanations as to why people try to end their lives. However, the most common reason of all is depression.
A feature of deep depression is the sense that all hope is lost. Every moment becomes a living hell of self-recrimination, guilt and worthlessness. The future is black, the person feels a burden on others, and death is considered a welcome release.
It’s a common misconception that by preventing an attempt at suicide it is only putting off the inevitable. Quite the opposite is the case. Suicidal tendencies are nearly always treatable. During depression especially they are fueled by a distortion of the world and a self-destructive pattern of thought that can be challenged and turned around.
Psychologist Dr. Lisa Firestone, refers to a destructive inner voice that deceives people into believing suicide is the best solution to their suffering. Survivors of suicide, she says, describe a sense of being, ‘totally disconnected and possessed by something that was compelling them to end their lives.’ Dr. Firestone says one way of treating potentially suicidal patients is to help them identify this ‘inner critic’ and to fight back with ‘a more realistic and compassionate point of view.’
The idea of an internal enemy or anti-self crops up a lot in literature on suicide. If a potentially suicidal person can be encouraged to articulate their thoughts it becomes clear just how detached and isolated they feel. Notions of being a burden, causing trouble or holding others back are common, as is a sense of personalized hopelessness “what’s the point of any of it.” Such thought processes may reveal themselves in outbursts of rage, disrupted sleep, use of alcohol or risk taking behavior.
A number of highly effective treatment methods now exist to help prevent suicide or further suicide attempts. Healthcentral has more information about suicide and suicidal behavior. Our advice to you or someone you know who may be thinking about suicide is to speak to someone.
There are numbers that you can call from anywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-999-9999.
As with any other type of emergency, call the local emergency number (such as 911) right away if someone you know has attempted suicide. Do not leave the person alone, even after you have called for help.
Firestone, R., Firestone, L., Catlett, J., Love, P. (2002) Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice: A Revolutionary Program to Counter Negative Thoughts and Live Free from Imagined Limitations. New Harbinger Publications
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.